Flow: being in the zone

When I first heard about Flow, I thought to myself, what an interesting concept. Here’s a simple idea that says happiness can be attained by finding an activity where challenge and skill are maximized. It’s also a daring idea because quantifying happiness in a single equation is an open invitation to criticism.

So, what is Flow? It’s a mental state where you are fully immersed in the activity you’re performing. It’s feeling energized, motivated, and in focus while doing the thing you love. It’s being fully absorbed in what you’re doing to the extent of euphoria.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as: “a single-minded immersion, occurring at the highest levels of skill and challenge”.

Flow model
Flow is a musician jamming on a guitar, an artist creating a masterpiece, or a scientist discovering the next breakthrough medicine. It’s the out of body experience felt by anyone who’s in the zone while doing their own thing. It has applicability in education, sports, the workplace, etc. And for me as a life coach, it has great potential in the field of wellness and personal growth. If you can figure out the space where you’re fully challenged and skillful then you would’ve found your passion and purpose; the two things that are guaranteed to make your life meaningful.

That being said, Flow isn’t just about excitement and being pumped and energized. It can also be the simple enjoyment and the relaxation one feels when reading a wonderful book or lying down on the beach. So Flow, as I see it, is not necessarily an extreme sport or a great cup of coffee. It’s not an end, or a means to an end. It’s simply a guide. The starting point is self-awareness to uncover that one activity that makes you feel complete, followed by deliberate self-development that can help you reach high levels of skillfulness and mastery at the peak of that activity’s challenge.

Depending on which activity you choose, Flow may be extremely simple to attain. Find an activity, immerse yourself in it, make sure it’s challenging and get the necessary skills to master it. The formula is straight forward, but once you get there, Flow could be hard to maintain because of apathy, boredom, or anxiety.

Less challenging tasks coupled with low skill levels produces lack of interest; apathy. When challenges are low, but one’s skill level exceeds those challenges, you get boredom. And when challenges are so high that they exceed one’s perceived skill level causing one great distress and uneasiness, there’s anxiety. Consequently, Csíkszentmihályi says: “If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills”. In other words, never shy away from a challenge and be committed to continuous learning.

Achieving Flow leads to a happier and more fulfilled life. So, imagine if your chosen activity is also your source of income. That’s what’s called: never working another day in your life. When I work with my clients, Flow is often at the top of the list in terms of the goals they want to achieve, and having experimented with Flow myself, I found it to be quite the life changing experience.